A surprising number of Victorian adventure novelists spent time on ostrich farms in the Transvaal. H. Rider Haggard is a case in point.

Haggard was born in England in 1856 and died in 1925. In 1875, after having failed the Army entrance exam, he went to Natal as a secretary (which did not then have quite the same connotations as now) to Sir Henry Bulwer, governor of the colony. By 1878, Haggard was Master and Registrar of the High Court of the Transvaal.

In the Transvaal, Haggard came to know and respect the Zulu people. For this or some other reason, the African characters in his novels (Umslopogaas, Umbopa, et al.) were more human, fleshed-out, and worthy of respect than was common among English novelists of the time. On the other hand, he was a friend of Rudyard Kipling in later years, and to the end of his life was firmly convinced that English imperialism was a good idea. So don't go drawing too many facile conclusions; people are complicated.

In time, Haggard came to own an ostrich farm in the Transvaal, which he left when the Transvaal was ceded to Holland. After finally returning to England for good late in life, he sat on a number of Royal Commissions regarding agriculture, colonial migration, etc.

Haggard wrote King Solomon's Mines in 1885, having written two failed novels earlier. He bet his brother he could write a better novel than Treasure Island, and won the bet as far as I'm concerned.

King Solomon's Mines is not a deep or profound novel. It's an episodic adventure story about English explorers penetrating deep into the heart of darkest Africa and finding a lost civilization. It's heaps of fun, and it introduces Haggard's character Allan Quatermain. She followed in 1887. She is an episodic adventure story about English explorers penetrating deep into the heart of darkest Africa and finding a completely different lost civilization. It's heaps more fun. Nothing significant is recycled from one to the other. The broad outlines are the same, but never mind that: There's only so many plots on this Earth anyway. Read them both; they're as good as that stuff can get in the hands of a gleeful and inventive author.

There followed dozens more. Ayesha, the undying "She Who Must Be Obeyed" of She -- who dissolved dramatically into nothingness at the end of that novel -- returns, of course, in 1905 (Ayesha: The Return of She) and 1921 (She and Allan). Allan Quatermain returns here and there. The interior of Africa was hip-deep in lost civilizations back then.

Haggard wrote dozens of books, both fiction and non-fiction, the latter on gripping subjects like Rural Denmark (1911).

H. Rider Haggard died in 1925, and immediately deliquesced into a pile of dust whence his shrieking spirit fled into the bowels of the Earth, pursued by a host of demons, lions, and humongous howling crabs. It was a fitting end.

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